The Smartisan Nut Pro 3 -- or the TikTok phone, as some like to call it -- is the brand’s first smartphone since being taken over by TikTok maker ByteDance. But it’s more than just a phone that comes with Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. It also has a solid build quality and an affordable price tag with flagship specs. 

The Nut Pro 3 has a really nice design that’s reminiscent of an iPhone 4.

It’s a recipe we’re used to seeing from Chinese companies at this point. But after spending some time with the Nut Pro 3, I think this so-called TikTok phone is worth a serious look.

DESIGN

The first thing I noticed about the TikTok phone is the look and feel. It reminds me of the iPhone 4’s boxy design, which I really love. It also helps the phone feel secure in the hand. 

But the phone does have a glass back, making it a fingerprint magnet. The sleek black look is nice, though. Even the metal frame is in black. And I love the rounded buttons on the side that keep the phone looking clean.

The Nut Pro 3 has the same metal frame and rounded side buttons as the iPhone 4.

But the Nut Pro 3 isn’t all about the looks. It has some flagship power inside while maintaining the price tag of a mid-range handset. The base model starts at less than US$400.

For that price, you get a Snapdragon 855+ CPU, 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. The 6.4-inch screen uses an AMOLED display, too, and it supports the DCI-P3 color gamut and an in-screen fingerprint sensor. It also has a relatively beefy 4,000mAh battery.

The TikTok phone has four cameras.

But if you’re picking up a TikTok phone, you’re gonna want to know about the cameras, right? The phone has four cameras on the back, which include the main 48-megapixel wide-angle shooter, 13-megapixel ultra-wide lens, 8-megapixel telephoto lens and 5-megapixel macro camera. There’s also a 20-megapixel selfie camera on the front.

BUILT-IN TIKTOK APP

The first phone from ByteDance unsurprisingly comes with TikTok preinstalled. Well, the local version called Douyin, to be precise. This phone isn’t officially available outside China yet.

It’s not just TikTok -- the Nut Pro 3 also comes with other popular Chinese music and video-streaming apps.

The phone ensures Douyin is always ready to go. Frequent Douyin users might appreciate being able to pull up the app just by swiping up on the lock screen.

SOFTWARE

When it comes to software, you might need some time to get used to the phone’s flavor of Android, which has a heavily customized user interface. The Nut Pro 3 uses Smartisan OS 7, which is based on Android 9. 

The first thing that will stand out is the phone’s very different home screen. The design of the app icons reminds me of webOS on the Palm Pre. There’s also no app drawer, so you have all the installed apps on the home screen, similar to the iPhone. Fortunately, there’s an option in the settings to switch to the standard Android UI most people are probably used to and get the app drawer back.

Smartisan OS 7 looks very different to other Android phones.

But since this is a Chinese phone made for people living in China, where Google is blocked, Smartisan OS does not have any Google apps. There are ways to install popular Google apps like Google Maps and YouTube, but it requires some extra effort. Google has also warned against it, saying the apps might not work properly and could pose a security risk.

The phone comes with a Chinese app store instead of Google Play.

Gesture navigation on the Nut Pro 3 can also be confusing and takes some time to get used to. Some of the gestures will be familiar to most smartphone users. To open the app switcher, swipe up from the bottom and pause in the center of the screen, just like an iPhone.

But Smartisan OS also has some unique gestures. A diagonal swipe from the top right corner activates split-screen mode, allowing up to four different apps to open at once. And if you pinch out on the home screen, you can see four different pages at once.

The split screen feature is super smooth and easy to use.

The split screen function is one I really appreciate. Being able to open four apps at once through gestures and just tap between them is really convenient. More importantly, there’s no lag.

Big Bang is a unique copy-and-paste feature on the Nut Pro 3.

Another interesting feature is Big Bang. This lets you copy and paste specific words together instead of a whole block of text. It works by breaking up all the words in a paragraph and letting you tap the words you want to copy to your clipboard. It turns out to be a useful feature copying hashtags.

Only English and Mandarin are supported for real-time captions for video.

You can get even more utility out of the feature by turning on Big Bang for voice. This will get you real-time captions for videos in either English or Mandarin. For the time I spent trying it out, it seemed pretty accurate.

FACE FILTERS

And now we come to perhaps the most important feature. What would a TikTok phone be without face filters? 

There’s a variety of face filters in the native camera app.

As you might expect with a phone built around TikTok, the Nut Pro 3 has face filters built into the native camera app. The filters include a lot of special effects and ways to animate yourself, making it more useful than the beauty modes you’ll find on many other Chinese Android phones. But if the camera app’s filters aren’t enough for you, the built-in Douyin app has even more.

VERDICT

For just US$400, there’s not much to dislike about the Nut Pro 3. Perhaps the best thing about it is that the design still feels sleek and premium even though it’s inspired by the decade-old iPhone 4.

The Nut Pro 3 is a solid budget phone that packs flagship specs.

But there are some downsides. The lack of built-in Google apps will be a huge disappointment for most non-Chinese users. You can spend some time installing those apps on your own, but not all phones support Google Play Services. 

The Smartisan OS is another issue that will bother stock Android fans, but at least there’s an option to switch to the stock Android UI and launcher. 

The biggest obstacle, though, is the fact that the Nut Pro 3 is only available in China. But if you must have this phone, I recommend looking out for the base model. It’s easily the most bang for your buck in smartphones right now. Even though many Chinese companies are offering similar specs for low prices these days, many of those brands are trying to creep up the value chain. So it’s increasingly hard to find quality phones for just US$400.